Going away this Easter and want to enjoy mealtimes more with the kids?

We have teamed up with kids’ mealtime blogger, Grace Willis, from Happy Little Eaters, who writes about reducing fussiness and creating happier mealtimes, and has given her top tips on mealtimes this holiday

HIGH EXPECTATIONS VERSUS REALITY

There’s a temptation to picture your upcoming holiday as nothing but perfect; the kids eating everything put in front of them, playing nicely together, everyone laughing and joking....often this pressure we put on ourselves makes it all worse!  We don’t allow for any hiccups or anyone to be anything other than on top form. So when mealtimes aren’t going the way we had planned, it can feel very disappointing.

Lower your expectations and remember that some mealtimes might not go the way you had thought and it may be better to write it off and not dwell on one particular meal.

COMPARISONITIS

It is easy to think that whilst on holiday, (or in general!) everyone else’s children are behaving better when eating out and eating everything they are given.  Maybe they are, but either way, what does it matter?  All children are different and learn at different stages.  The other table next to you may have excellent eaters but struggle with sleeping or behaviour issues that are not visible to us.

The more we focus on our own family and what we are doing, we may begin to care less. Who knows, others may be looking over in admiration rather than judging?!

Remember this: 'I am just trying to do my best, we are all in the same boat and all learning'.

TRYING DIFFERENT FOOD

We should remember that even trying the basics such as milk and bread abroad may taste different to our children so trying something more adventurous might be a step too far.

Suggestions: order something familiar for your child at the beginning of the holiday and take tiny amounts off your plate and leave on a side dish for them to try if they wish and go from there.  Keep the emphasis on looking, smelling and feeling more than anything else. They may surprise you and try something new. The best we can do is offer a little of what we are eating and be relaxed about it and know happy mealtimes are a long-term investment rather than a quick fix.  Depending on how receptive your child is to new tastes and textures, it may take a while for your child to want to try something new.  A simple ‘that’s ok, you don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to is a more positive approach.  Try not to engage in any mealtime battles, you end up achieving the opposite to what you actually want more often than not!

TREAT YOUR CHILD AS YOU WOULD ANYONE ELSE AROUND THE DINNER TABLE

Do you often comment on what your child is eating or lack of?  Do you ask them to try the food on their plate continuously?  You don’t need to ask a child to eat, this is the one area of parenting that we do not need to get involved in and decide what’s best for our child.  Eating and mealtimes are child-led to a degree. Your main role is providing what you are serving and when and then it’s up to the child to decide what to eat and how much.  This, in turn, lets the child learn by themself when they are full or hungry.  For further reading, search for Ellen Slatter’s Division Of Responsibility.  Once you start practising this approach, mealtimes become almost instantly happier and easier!

FRIENDS & FAMILY

You may be going on holiday with friends and extended family, which can potentially create tension at mealtimes if your child is a fussy eater and all the different pieces of well-intended advice you may receive because of this and this can make the situation even more stressful!  Suggestions? It can be difficult for older generations to understand different ways of feeding our kids and the child-led approach I practise can often be viewed as the parent not being in control.  Once you see how much calmer, happier and easier this way to mealtimes is, this will hopefully be all the reassurance you need to keep going and know you are using the right approach for your family.

Unsolicited advice can often say more about the speaker as they may be looking for an opportunity to talk about their own experience or their frustrations rather than feeling this person is judging you.  One idea of dealing with this advice is to simply say ‘thanks’ which may help diffuse any tension.  You are not committing to whether you agree or disagree with them!  There is no rule saying you must accept everything anyone ever says to you and it could be a better plan to thank them and ignore the comments as best as you can.

CHANGE THE CONVERSATION

Holidays are a great reminder that eating and mealtimes are not just about food.  They are about coming together as a family and talking about the day as well.  So, next time you are tempted to say, ‘come on, eat up!’ replace it with ‘what shall we do after lunch today?’  ‘Why haven’t you eaten your vegetables yet?’ could be replaced with ‘What is your favourite silly face to pull?’  What you are doing is teaching your child that mealtimes are a fun place to be and when your child is relaxed, they may be more willing to try new food.

For more mealtime tips, please visit Grace’s website.